Friday, July 02, 2010


The Rev. Dana Prom Smith, S.T.D., Ph.D. (7-2-10)

In the middle of summer with autumn a month and a half off, Albert Camus’ sentence, “Autumn is a second spring when every leaf is a flower” comes to mind. Every season has its own beauty, especially autumn when the trees’ haunting beauty displays hues of life as the slumber of winter looms. The exception is late winter’s bleak grasp when the snow no longer glistens white, but a dull gray, and the ground is covered with winter’s dead debris. That’s the time to break the dismal spell.

Oddly, late summer is the time to think about that grim interim season when the first flowers break bleak winter’s faltering grasp. If there is anything that would break that grasp, it’s Wordsworth’s daffodils “fluttering and dancing in the breeze.” Autumn’s the time to plant them, and the late summer is the time to order them to get the best bargains and best quality.

While nothing is ever a cinch in the garden, daffodils come close. For the fussy and pristine, they have only one drawback. After flowering, the stalks should be allowed to whither and dry in plain sight. Only when they’re desiccated, should the husks be swept up and taken way. The reason is simple: the bulbs are drawing nutrients back into themselves. After such a glorious display, tossing “their heads in sprightly dance,” it’s heartless to deny the bulb its place at the dinner table. It’s also unwise because if denied, the bulb will retaliate with an ever decreasing glory, ending up like a fashion model sans make-up. Also, after the blooms are spent, the blossoms should be picked.

As with most things, success with daffodils begins with preparation, that is, the preparation of the soil. First, pick a site with good drainage, else the bulbs will be prone to rot. The soil should be friable. If clay, add either sand or volcanic cinders. Compost should be dug in a foot in depth along with 5-10-10 fertilizer. Don’t use a high nitrogen fertilizer because nitrogen will induce rot or excessive leafage. Also, dig in bone meal. Then plant the bulbs about six inches deep. Their “jocund company” looks best either strewn out in drifts or in spots of four or five bulbs here and there throughout the garden. Marching them in line doesn’t do justice to their “sparkling waves.”

They need about 5-6 hours of sunlight a day, so depending upon where they’re planted, their blooming season can be extended. A southern exposure will produce earlier blooms while a northern exposure will produce later blooms, stretching out their blooming time.

After blooming, when the dead stalks have been carried away by the wind or at the hand of a tidy gardener, it’s time to fertilize them with the same type of fertilizer with which they were first planted. Before winter sets in, they should be covered with a layer of mulch.

Also, daffodils can be planted in pots. Indeed, a few pots with blooming daffodils are a cheery greeting on a front walk or a delightful sight from the kitchen window on a back deck. Planting in pots isn’t difficult, but the bulbs are best replanted the next season outside in the ground to be rejuvenated. Pots aren’t their natural habitat. The pot should be six to eight inches in depth and should thoroughly cleansed before using to prevent rot. It’s best to use potting soil because of ease and clean soil. Daffodils require at least thirteen weeks of cold weather. If an early bloom is desirable, after the 13 weeks cold spell, the pot can be brought inside and maintained at 60ºF. three to four weeks.

A display of daffodils is often enhanced with companion plants like grape hyacinth (Muscari armeniancin) or even a variety of daffodils to lengthen the blooming season. When everything is spent, wildflower seeds can be sown in the same plot or drift or other annuals can be planted, extending the blooming season.

While daffodils bring a early beauty to a late winter’s melancholy eye, they also bring the heart pleasure. Wordsworth said it best: “My heart with pleasure fills and dances with the daffodils.”

Copyright © Dana Prom Smith 2010

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